The film: I hate how much I respect Scott Frost. I hate that Michigan is going to be locked into playing against this guy every year while Michigan State gets to pad every conference record with Minnesota (that was OUR rival!). I hate that the only guy in the world who could have made Nebraska into NEBRASKA again is the kind of Nebraska fan who would take the Nebraska job when Florida and LSU were ready to chuck $Texas at him. I hate that I like Frost more for doing so. I hate that I couldn't get through two drives (both which ended in turnovers) without grabbing my forehead to make sure my skull had a little extra buttressing as it tried to process everything Frost was doing. I hate myself for clipping six out of the first 11 plays.
Anyway Nebraska Year Zero outgained Colorado 565 yards to 395, outrushed their old Big 8 rival 329 yards to 44, had a lead, and were driving deep into Buffalos territory in the 4th quarter when their freshman phenom quarterback injured his knee.
Personnel: My diagram:
True freshman starting QB Adrian Martinez missed most of his senior year with a shoulder injury, left the Colorado game late with a knee injury and did not play in Nebraska's subsequent 24-19 loss to the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) He's a game-time decision. When he's healthy he's a future star. If he can't go things drop pretty far: RS freshman Tristan Gebbia transferred when Martinez won the job, so if Martinez can't go it's back to walk-on QB Andrew Bunch, who started against Troy last week.
WR Stanley Morgan was 14 receiving yards short of 1,000 last year, second in the Big Ten only to D.J. Moore. JuCo transfer WR Mike Williams has shored up the spot opposite him so they can keep excellent Slot J.D. Spielman where he belongs, backed up by 2017 Top-50 recruit Tyjon Lindsey, who had a committable Ohio State offer.
All of the tight ends are receiver-ish and line up like receivers. Jack Stoll appeared in every game last year and spends as much time as a Flex TE as he does inline or at H-back. The other TEs in the rotation, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal are super-tall redshirt freshmen.
The line is experienced, and though they struggled at run blocking last year they kept former QB Tanner Lee upright (8th in 2017 adj. sack rate). The only one not back is former center Michael Decker, who left football with eligibility remaining. New C Cole Conrad is a poorer man's Graham Glasgow—the former walk-on started 12 games at guard or tackle over two season before moving to the middle this fall. RG Tanner Farmer is a longtime PFF favorite, however fellow longtime starter LG Jerald Foster tends to be really good against bad teams, really bad against good teams, and really REALLY grabby. LT Brenden Jaimes struggled last year when thrust onto the field as a true freshman, but he's up to 300 pounds on his NFL left tackle frame and starting to look the part. Right tackle is back to the guy Conrad replaced last year, Matt Farniok, who's bleah at pass protection and not much help on runs.
The backfied sorely misses feature back Tre Bryant, who retired from football late in fall practice. As befits a Scott Frost team they use a rotation of them. RB Greg Bell was the nation's top JuCo prospect this year, and is averaging a smooth 6.22 YPC; he has excellent vision and good acceleration but will get caught from behind. Freshman RB Maurice Washington caught up to Bell in carries and yardage by bouncing outside on Troy—he's lengthy but hard to bring down on first contact. Last year's nominal starter Devine Ozigbo actually has one more carry than Washington right now; he's a burly pile-mover and the designated short-yardage back.
[After THE JUMP: Inside the mind of a genius]
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? They're a mix of everything, master of none. With the receiver depth chart not very usable beyond the backup slot receiver they mostly stick to 3-wide personnel, occasionally going a drive with two tight ends, who are all big receivers. They'll motion those guys and the RBs around to get 4- and 5-wide looks.
I counted it as Pistol this game if the RB was a yard or more behind the QB, since that was almost always a run tip or play-action. The two passes were on the last clock drive. I didn't count any the stuff with bubble reads as RPOs—there were 13 of them.
There were at least TWENTY-FIVE different running plays I charted. The only plays they ran as any kind of base were the Bubble/Inside Zone play (six times) and Zone Read, which had small variations each time. The bubble package also had Duo, Outside Zone, Power, QB Power, QB Power with a tackle pulling, and zone read with a pulling backside TE. There were two zone reads with a pulling guard, one Power Read/Inverted Veer, four regular Power plays, a jet package, two split zones, four triple options…I'm not going to list them all.
The plan was to run early and often.
|3rd & 4th||5||2||1||9|
Hurry it up or grind it out? Tempo. Usually there were more than 20 seconds on the clock when they snapped the ball, and they were so bad at dialing it down that they left Colorado two-and-a-half minutes for their final drive. That ended up working in Nebraska's favor because Colorado scored quickly.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): The injury could make this moot but I wanted to give the full player his due first. Martinez is an Athlete. While his top gear is only good, that's plenty to make him a dangerous threat on the ground, and as all the options and QB runs in the playcalling above can testify, they use those legs in the offense.
You know how Maryland and Ohio State like to go unbalanced to run the running backs out the back side in space? Nebraska would rather the backs follow the blocking and Martinez be the guy outrunning your safeties to the edge.
Martinez will use his legs as a second read, and is quite slippery if you don't wrap him up or bring help. I'd give him an 8 or 9 if he was healthy, where 8 is a guy you could insert at running back. Losing Martinez/Martinez's ability to run is a major blow.
Versus the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) backup Andrew Bunch had 7 rushes for 28 yards for 4 YPC excluding sacks (and passed for just 5.13 YPA). He escaped one pressure and gave a fair demonstration of what the fight or flight response in humans is capable of. This runner is as frightening as: Wilton Speight running from a bear. 2.
Zook Factor: Zero. Scott Frost is the same age as the average MGoBlog reader and has played as much Madden. He went for it on 4th and 2 and 4th and 1 in this game, though they converted neither. He also runs 3rd down plays that are likely to get him close to a first down.
Dangerman: There are a few. With Wisconsin's injury/off-field situation Nebraska now claims the best group of wideouts in the West. I didn't get to see much from Stanley Morgan Jr. in this game but "leading returning receiver in the conference" speaks for itself. A sampling:
The slot receivers are both tough to corral, but the one that Michigan really should worry about is J.D. Spielman, who gets a lot of YAC on the many quick passes that come his way and can murder you over the top (WARNING: THIS IS A SLOT FADE):
I also gave a star to two of their offensive linemen. RG Tanner Farmer has been a person-mover and PFF fave-rave for years despite some awful play around him. But I was far more envious of their true sophomore LT Brenden Jaimes, who was a wall. Colorado and scheme have something to do with it, but when asked to pass block Jaimes wasn't beaten once. He still makes the occasional youthful biff—his false start with 25 seconds left was a killer. But the true freshman who was barely surviving last year has now progressed to a stalwart pass protector who gets the occasional plus in the run game too.
Martinez was really fun to watch. He's got a weird throwing motion, as Nebraska Martinezii must. They keep things pretty simple for him (more on that in the summary) as when they opened up the field for him he tended to run or throw it into coverage.
|Bunch-Troy||3||5 (8)||1||2||1||-||4||2x (1)||5xx||45%||-|
When he's hale again he can do this:
But he's probably not hale, and if he's playing hurt against Winovich and Gary with a right tackle problem and an offense that requires him to run the ball a lot...well...we're probably going to see the walk-on some.
I sped through the Troy game too so I could get a better look at Bunch. He's…a walk-on. Bunch was never comfortable in the pocket, bailing early then trying to hit tiny windows on the run. The first time this went to his tight end, who caught it then fumbled--I gave him a "DO" because he put it in the #ButtZone but you don't really want your QB making that throw.
The second time he tried that it was picked off. He had a nice TD throw to Stanley Morgan that two defenders might have had a play on if they turned around. I gave him "DO" for that too. He also got a ball to a falling Morgan in the only spot he could fit it while getting drilled. Also he threw into double coverage a lot. Also he fumbled four times. Also a week ago they left Martinez on the sideline with 2:30 left down 24-19 to a Sun Belt team, which either shows extraordinary concern for his QB's well-being from Scott Frost, or that it's going to be a lot more than a week before Martinez can really offer better.
Best guess: Martinez plays, but his knee doesn't.
The only guy on this offense who has to really be protected is the right tackle, #71 Matt Farniok. Nebraska often had a TE coming across the formation to assist him, and he tends to tip pass by lining up in the backfield:
The real danger in this offense is Scott Frost. He's my pick for best offensive mind in college football, and I doubt there's going to be much controversy to that. Let me show you some of the looks Colorado had to deal with:
I called this "Double-G" because it's Down G to both sides:
Even basic things like Power-O can have a weird result thanks to the experience of the OL. And he's built in RPOs and weird second reads to turn a thing as basic as Outside Zone into a complicated adventure I needed to draw up to see what was going on:
I tried to draw up what I think is going on here:
Don't quote me on all those reads, but it's a fascinating concept. The idea here is to freeze everyone on the backside with reads and then outflank the defense on the field side. They motion the TE across the formation to flip the defense and get a man-or-zone read. On the snap they Run-Pass Option the SAM: if he's blitzing they have a quick hook route to get the first down before the MLB or SS can get down on that. I'm not sure if Martinez is reading the MIKE after that, or maybe reading what gap the nose goes into while making the MIKE think he's being read?
The backside is pass-blocking so there's room to run perhaps between the LT and LG. Anyway the MLB stays inside and the nose gets sealed by the center despite getting free for a moment. On the playside the right guard (Tanner Farmer) used all this time to reach block the DT.
That DT gets so wide and upfield though that Bell decides to cut inside of it. That screws up the RT's blocking angle on the WLB and makes the MLB relevant again—Bell collides with both LBs and the ball pops loose. Anyway all those reads freeze the defense inside and you can see very clearly how dangerous a run between Farmer (63) and Stoll (86) can be.
Scott Frost also uses a ton of motion—somebody motioned before almost half (42/89) of the snaps I charted. Some of that, like above, is to not let the defense feel comfortable in their assignments before the next thing happens to them. But I think Frost also uses that motion to make the pre-snap reads easier on his freshman quarterback. I'll show you an example
This play is a good example of how the motion reveals the defensive coverage scheme. The defense doesn't exchange here which confirms Taylor's pre-snap read that Colorado is in a zone defense (based on the corners playing off). If Martinez sees man-to-man on the Spielman travel he can throw a quick pick route to Spielman on the frontside. Since he sees zone his first read converts to the quick out to Stanley Morgan. Either way as long as Martinez makes the correct pre-snap read he should have a quick and easy five yards to one of his two best playmakers, with a chance for more.
However it's still a true freshman, who sat out last year, not an NFL quarterback. When that first, simple read is wrong, he's quite liable to short-circuit:
For now his coach is keeping things very simple and focusing on the run game. Unfortunately for the future, it's only a matter of time until Martinez is fully operational, if he can stay healthy.
Frost also likes to get a lot of playmakers on the field and use them at the things they're good at. Here they've got their regular three-wide personnel on the field (with the more RB-like slot Tyjon Lindsey in for normal slot J.D. Spielman). This might motion into something else; this time it was a double screen: Martinez read the SAM to see if he'd go with the Lindsey side, and then threw a tunnel screen to the RB. Colorado's CB was all over it.
It's Year Zero in the Scott Frost era. He's got a very experienced offensive line that's in very similar shape to the one Harbaugh inherited from Hoke, some excellent playmakers at wide receiver, a true freshman quarterback with injury issues, and no backups except at running back because they all are. But this is Frost we're talking about, so he's scheming and weaving them into a more than functional offense that's going to make even the soundest defense break down when they can't keep up.